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Sunday 27 October 2013

Between a rock and a hard place!

By – Shamim Masih

ISLAMABAD: Doing journalism in the country like Pakistan, which is dominated by Muslim religious extremist, is not easy, especially when you write about religious minorities. Pakistan is perhaps ranked the third most dangerous country for reporting. The country also has one of the highest numbers of journalists threatened, kidnapped and killed.

Before partition, the vision of the Muhammad Ali Jinnah was of a nation that would adopt secularism to accommodate its historically multi-religious and culturally diverse population. The Christians chose to stay back were assured of security and basic equal rights. Sadly, what is happening is at total variance to the vision. Today, the very existence of these communities is under threats. It seems that Pakistan exist as an Islamic state, comprising only of Sunni State like Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has been carrying out the most insidious ethnic cleaning over the last four decades right under the eyes of the world.

My aim is to create a peaceful environment in the society and to help eliminate human rights violation / persecution through my writing as I bring the plight of those brave people under spotlight of the whole world.
Pakistan, where those working to change an incredibly hostile climate for free speech have found themselves under fierce attack. So in this situation journalists do not dare to write about these activities.
Being a Christian journalist, it is indeed become more dangerous to write on minorities’ issues. Many newsrooms forbid their journalists from reporting these kids of incidents. So it happens with me as well. Apart from my routine work, I usually write on minorities issues. So during my working with different papers in the country (knowingly I not mentioning the names), my editor told me to keep it low profile or stop it for a while, and if I had to, it would go without by byline.

Threat is routine matter; I even don’t mention this kind of phone calls or anything like this. People know me and know that even if it is without by byline, that I am doing it. Some time, they ask me, to whom you are working for; my answer is simple, for Christ Jesus. No one can stop me until its God will. I work as diplomatic correspondents, also covering foreign office and Parliament House additional I do for my paper. Apart from my office responsibilities, I raise the voice of the most deprived portion of the society. They are usually called “chooras” (derogatory term used for Christians in Pakistan, also among the poorest sections of society and consigned to menial janitorial jobs). Some time they use this word for me as well, even if it is not in my presence but I know the mentality of the stiff mind-set.

It is quite distressing to see a region that has for millenniums been the hub of civilization and religious integration, with an abiding heritage of multi ethnicity and linguistic/cultural diversity, degenerate into a fanatical society in such a short span of time. It is astounding to see how some fanatical groups have converted rich diversity into a liability. But it will make no difference; threats are hazards of this job living in an increasingly intolerant society. The most painful is the attitude of Christian religious leadership behavior towards its congregation. Missionary schools have expelled the Christian students from their school. Christian institutions have hired squad of Muslims while Christian skilled and deserving youngsters are jobless. Those who are responsible are not the visionary intellectuals and thinkers of the society; they are fringe elements seeking to further their business, economic and political interests by playing politics of sectarian hatred.

The world need to take cognizance of the genocide that is slowly taking place in Pakistan. The responsibility on United State of America is all the more acute; while being concerned about all the groups that are suffering, special attention has to be given to the Christian communities and to the people who are really deserving.     

Wednesday 23 October 2013

House of Lords discusses persecution of Christian's outside of Britain and the challenges faced by Christian asylum seekers to the UK.

A gathering of humanitarians of different faiths convened at the House of Lords yesterday at a meeting hosted by Baroness Berrige, Chair All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief.  In attendance were His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church, United Kingdom,  Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, Chair Person International Human Rights Association,  Lord Ahmed of Rotheram,  Nadeem Ali, Mayor Waltham Forest,  Professor Iain Benson, Barrister, Professor Extraordinary, Faculty of Law, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, Executive Committee Member. Global Centre for Pluralism, Toronto, Canada,  Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair Parliamentary Human Rights Group,  Toaha Qureshi, MBE,  Cameron Younis, Pakistani Christian,  Rev'd Canon Dr Shannon Ledbetter, Community Canon, Blackburn Cathedral and Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association.

The meeting focused on the process of Asylum in the UK and the exiting persecution of Christians and other minorities abroad.  

Lord Avebury commented on the existing Asylum process indicating that overall his perception was that the existing framework was correct, but clarifying he would be interested to hear about way to improve the process.  

Cameron Younis a Pakistani Christian described how he had started two schools to stem the growing illiteracy amongst the Christians in Pakistan.  

Canon Shanon Ledbetter chaired the meeting and spoke of the need for people of good conscience from within major faiths, to promote unity amongst their congregations.

Bishop Angaelos form the Coptic Orthodox Church siad;

"Democracy and Theocracy cannot live together."  He added; "We need pious people who use their faith to care for all segments of society."

Professor Iain Benson said; "We all need a richer conception of our obligations in Society"  

Professor Benson shared a paradigm for the espousal of a better global society, and Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA questioned him on how feasible it was, for nations such as Pakistan with their adoption of a Theocratic constitution and laws, to engage with such methodology.  Especially where the model required proper assessment of the needs of "Associational Groupings," meaning that minority needs would have to be equally prioritised.

Professor Benson replied; 

"It will be very difficult but a paradigm shift is necessary and it may require revolution."

Wilson responded by seeking clarification on whether Professor Benson would support sanctions from the United Nations, European Union and stronger nations, to bring change to Pakistan and other nations with poor humanitarian records.  

Professor Benson said;

"Yes it is imperative we use all available resource to bring change, and bodies such as these should undertake the functions they were created for"

At the end of the meeting Wilson Chowdhry said;

"Recent incidents of persecution in the Islamic World, have highlighted concerns regarding the safety of Christians.  The effects of these attacks reverberate across the globe and create unnecessary tension in more harmonious societies.  This accumulated hurt is an undesirable social malaise, that can only be cured through a more proactive global effort to restore dignity to the oppressed."

Canon Shanon and Baroness Berrige.

Bishop Angaelos considers the evidence before him.

Rubab Mehdi Rizvi spoke of the hope for a better Pakistan.

Professor Iain Benson

Wilson Chowdhry and Canon Shanon

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Godly women convene to discuss mission work in the Muslim World.

Wilson Chowdhry is introduced to the audience.

Godly women from across Ireland both the south and the north, met to discuss mission work in the Middle-East.  The event was called 'Longing to Call them Sisters'  and was  held at Newtownbreda Baptist Church, in Belfast,  on Saturday 19th October 2013.  The event was well attended and had in the region of 60 participants. Groups such as Release International, Elam Ministries, Irish Church Missions, FEBA Radio and Open Doors were represented, many of whom held information stalls.

William Mateer Irish Ambassador for FEBA with Wilson Chowdhry

Two women shared about their work in Bangladesh and Indonesia, describing the hardships faced by people living in these countries and the work their respective groups were undertaking to help them.  A number of stirring videos illustrated the hope those receiving aid gained from the humanitarian effort, and shared testimonies from newly saved Christians, moved by the generosity of the Christian charities.

Wilson addresses the the conference.

Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA was invited to share some words, after a late cancellation from a guest speaker from an Iranian Christian Charity.  He spoke of the recent attack on Peshawar and the devastation it caused, describing in detail the affect on a number of victims.  Wilson also spoke of the ongoing persecution and discrimination faced by all Minorities in Pakistan, explaining that not all Muslim's are extremists, but that somehow extremist ideology has permeated the legal and constitutional frameworks of Pakistan, creating disparity in educational and employment opportunity and harsher lifestyles for Christians and other minorities.  He went on to detail case studies for Shazia Bashir, the Gojra attack, Rimsha Masih and Asia Bibi.

Feedback from those in attendance was very positive and a number of visitors have asked to be included on our regular distribution.  Later in the day, women from this conference joined Wilson at the Candlelight vigil for victims of Peshawar bomb attack, outside Belfast City Hall. Read more here:

Wilson Chowdhry said;

"The twin suicide bomb attack on Christians in Peshawar is an utterly condemnable act. However, it is not fair to blame all Muslim's for the twisted ideologies of a few extremists.  This conference was an opportunity for me to describe the persecution faced by the Minorities in Pakistan, and to call for wider support and aid. Speaking at this women's conference reminded me of the good work that so many Christian groups undertake in the Middle-East, and the support they provide much like the work of the BPCA, is accessible to all, irrespective of faith."

Please sign our electronic petition for victims of Peshawar here:

The BPCA are currently providing relief aid to victims of this bomb attack, which includes sponsoring orphans, paying for new limbs, counselling and settling medical debts, which the Government has failed to do despite promises. If you would like to contribute to this work or  for our work in continuing to raise awareness of atrocities meted out towards minorities in Pakistan.  Further details of our work can be found by clicking this link:

 If you would like to contribute to our relief work, please use the following details;

Cheques can be sent to -
BPCA, 57 Green Lane, Ilford, EssexIG1 1XG

Bank details for transfer – Sort Code 20 67 90  Account number 6346 8976

Monday 21 October 2013

Pakistani Christians touched by the love and sincerity of Northern Irish people.

BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry is joined at candlelight vigil for victims of the Peshawar twin bomb attack on a church, by  local Irish volunteers concerned about the ongoing persecution of Christians in Pakistan

Belfast city centre was the venue for a candlelight vigil for Pakistani Christians slain on 22nd September 2013, in the courtyard of All Saint's Church, Peshawar.

The vigil  outside Belfast's famous City Hall, was led by the British Pakistani Christian Association whose aims were to highlight the plight of suffering Christians in Pakistani.  Candles were set out in the shape of a cross and leaflets were distributed to local visitors, describing the recent bomb atrocity that killed 126 innocent parishioners and maimed a further 100.  Leaflets signposted an electronic petition that would later be submitted to the Irish Parliament, calling for British Parliamentarians to seek  better protection of minorities living in Pakistan through dialogue with Pakistan's Government and to use the existing British aid budget to Pakistan as a lever for progressive humanitarian improvement.  Our electronic petition can be signed here:

The BPCA also described the ongoing incarceration of Asia Bibi, held under Pakistan's draconian and discriminatory blasphemy laws, under false charges.  Mrs Bibi a mother of 5 children, was beaten raped and taken into protective police custody after she was accused of blaspheming against the prophet muhammed - this safe custody later become detention under a charge of blasphemy. Mrs Bibi Currently awaits death by hanging after being found guilty of at Sheikupura Court in 2009.

Mrs Bibi's crime was offering of water to Muslim co-workers on a hot day, whilst collecting berries.  The co-workers enraged that a Christian untouchable had dared to approach them in this manner, started to abuse her about her faith her simple reply was; 

"My Christ die for me? What has Muhammed done for you?"

A large number of visitors showed support for the vigil and lit candles.   Many of them had discovered the existence of Pakistani Christians for the first time and expressed great condemnation for the killings. Although their was no attempt to raise funds at this vigil, local people offered donations for support for the victims of the Peshawar that amounted to in excess of £100.  Organisers of the event felt humbled and felt great solace from the exhibited generosity and passion of Irish people.

Wilson Chowdhry initiates Candlelight vigil.

Northern Ireland is a land that has suffered much sectarian violence and the timing of the BPCA protests, clashed with a series of local flag protests, over the removal of the Union Flag from Belfast City Hall.  The peace process in Ireland has moved forward significantly in recent years, and many still remember the more terrible years when terrorism and the use of bombs was frequent.  This created an affinity amongst local people with the Pakistani Christians who had suffered this recent terrible atrocity.

Hilda Orr a Christian from Belfast said;

"It is with great shame I remember times gone by, when many innocent people lost their lives simply because of where they lived and the way they practised their faith - things here are much better now

.  I will be praying that a similar humanitarian effort for Pakistan, creates a safer environment for Pakistani Christians."

Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the BPCA said:

"The people of Northern Ireland have overcome huge obstacles to reach their current more stable and peaceful environment.  There are lessons that need to be learned from the remarkable desire for conciliation and tolerance,  illustrated in modern Ireland.  It is for this purpose that we held our candlelight vigil in Belfast and now we submit our petition to Irish Parliamentarians, who are best placed to devise mechanisms for peace in Pakistan.  We pray that they will use their expertise to challenge for change in Pakistan too."

Ruby Akhtar an Irish citizen of Pakistani of Judaic Christian origins and an active campaigner said;

"When I was in Pakistan as a Jew, it was unsafe for me to declare my true faith so I hid under the banner of Christianity as it was at the time (1970's), a culturally acceptable - though discriminated group.  It has now become unbearable for any minorities living in Pakistan."

She added;

"As a dual national of Ireland and Britain, I call for Irish Ministers to take action and protect these innocent victims.  We have overcome terrorism in our Irish communities and should now use our expertise to help others."  

Many British Pakistani Christians still have close family ties in Pakistan and are constantly worried about the safety of their loved ones. We at the BPCA feel Christians in Pakistan should no longer have to live in fear and should be free to practice their religion. And that's why we need your help to force the government of Pakistan into action and no longer stand by while innocent people are attacked and killed. 
We would also like to urge the British government to urgently reconsider its asylum regulations and make sure those fleeing this violence are offered a safe haven here in the UK.

Please sign our electronic petition here:

The BPCA are currently providing relief aid to victims of this bomb attack, which includes sponsoring orphans, paying for new limbs, counselling and settling medical debts, which the Government has failed to do despite promises. If you would like to contribute to this work or  for our work in continuing to raise awareness of atrocities meted out towards minorities in Pakistan.  Further details of our work can be found by clicking this link:

 If you would like to contribute to our relief work, please use the following details;

Cheques can be sent to -
BPCA, 57 Green Lane, Ilford, EssexIG1 1XG
Bank details for transfer – Sort Code 20 67 90  Account number 6346 8976

Thursday 17 October 2013

Our Relief Aid work in Peshawar

Mansoor Gill with some of the food supplies to be distributed to local victims of the Peshawar bombings.

Mansoor Gill prays before distribution of food.

Ishtiaq Gill visited  Salman Javed in Mahala Yaka Toot. He explained that his Grandfather passed away. Salman was hit with shards through his leg and foot during the bomb blast.

Farah Arshad Bibi was hit in her spinal chord and is now paralyzed. 

Arshad Javed sufferd injury to his feet, legs and hands and is disabled - no longer able to work.

The BPCA aid team arrived with their van.

Yaqoob Sahotra pictured described the loss of his son's eye after a shell form the blast hit him.   

Shakeela bibi lost her husband Khalid Fakhar in bomb blast.

Prem Masih's son Khadam received injuries to his leg. 

Prem Masih has lost three grandsons Tony, Amir, Zamir and one  granddaughter 
Prem masih is holding one of his grandson picture whose name is Zamir who lost his life in the bomb blast.

The loss of three children from this family has caused great sorrow.
Prem Masih's daughter in law Seema lost Three sons and her daughter in the bomb blast.

Seema is filled with sorrow holding an image of her daughter Jiya (3yrs).

Images of the deceased children Tony (4 yrs), Zamir (2 yrs), Aamir (5 yrs) and Jiya 3 yrs.

Saima 26yrs described the incident she said "I saw blood and dead people all over, it was very frightening." Samia teaches at the same school as  Ishtiaq Gill.

Saima shows  x-ray of her nephew Zahid (4 yrs), he is now crippled.

Mr Sohail Johnson who is a teacher now has two fractured legs. Wounded in his stomach he now has a colostomy bag and is still in critical care (undertaken at home).  Since leaving hospital his health has worsened. He said;  "I left the church to go to the Sunday school  and came to the veranda, there was a load bang and I didn’t know what  had happened. There was smoke everywhere and when I turned back I couldn’t see through the smoke. When the smoke lessened  I saw injured and dead people strewn across the floor, there was blood everywhere."  He added; "I then noticed my legs were hurting I didn’t know how I had got injured, then realisation struck that I had been hit in the bomb attack". 
He further added; "I was the only provider for this family and now I can't work for the forseeable future,  I need help with the fees for education of my two sons.  One son is studying FSC medical and the second son is studying for a degree in Medicine at Edward's College in second year."

Mrs Victor Sadiq who has lost her husband Mr Sadiq in the Bomb blast.

Mrs Sadiq's daughter Sonia lost her father in this bomb blast incident. She said; "There is nothing we can do to get my father back, this saddens me but we must accept Gods will."  She asked for an air mattress for her mother who was injured in the blast.

Ashkar Gohar  is a teacher, his mother was killed and also two nephews Zeeshan (7 yrs) and Sonu  (10 yrs). He has suffered injury to his leg and requires an operation to remove shards. He also has bomb shards is his left arm which is paralysed. His older son's name is Asher, and also has injuries to his leg, and has undergone surgery to remove one bomb shard from his neck and his stomach. He was in a critical situation but  is recovering well.
Uzma Gohar sister in law and is injured in both her feet - in the left foot big toe and the right foot heel.  Both her feet have been burnt.
Fozia age 13 yrs is sitting with her younger sister Sonia age 12 yrs and Ishtiaq Gill.

Fozia  age 13 yrs has bomb shards in her right leg.

Tariq John describing how the bomb attack affected him, he said;  "When the church service was finished and people were greeting each other,  volunteers were distributing rice. My wife and I were standing at the main gate waiting for our children to join us so that we could leave for home. Suddenly an explosion occurred!. My  wife and I were safe and did not get injured, but my older daughter was injured in her right leg."

Bashir Sahib lost his son Tariq (30yrs), daughter in law and grandson Tahir (7 yrs) in the attack, he say's it was the worst day in his life.

Mrs Shakeela Bibi is holding the picture of Master Khalid Fakhar (50 yrs) her husband, who died during the attack

Elder Brother name is alman and Javed is the younger brother of Sonam who died in the attack (see below).

Sonum age 18 yrs and Zarish sister in law 22 yrs lost their lives in the blast.

Naina 16 yrs is the  younger sister of sonam with her brother Javed described the attack.  

Meerab Naeem (27 yrs) a 4th year medical student lost her life in the attack. Her mother Mrs Naeem also lost her life.
Grandfather Nazir Masih and brother dauood.

All Saints Church

Images of the deceased before a shrine to the victims.

More of the shrine.

Aid workers Sharoon Yousaf and Ishtiaq Gill.

The shrine is visited daily.

Small bits of metal attached to the bodies of Suicide bombers, peppered the wall of the church.

The church building was damaged but only a minor concern. 

the end of a successful 5th trip to the affected victims of Peshawar.

Our banner displayed on the church with permission.

The church is a beautiful construction and parishioners continue to attend services.

Panoramic view of the shrine to victims.

The church as it stands.

Further images of the damage.

All Saints Church.

Bishop Humphrey Safraz Peter form Peshawar Diocese with BPCA Aid workers.

Bishop Humphrey is providing support to the victims and other parishioners and has agreed to work with the BPCA on a music for advocacy programme.

The BPCA will be continuing its relief fund to help this beleaguered community.  Donations will pay towards false limbs, support for orphaned children and counselling for families grieving for the bereaved and injured.

If you would like to donate to our relief work our bank details are as follows:
Sort Code: 20-67-90
Account number: 63468976
Bank: Barclays
Ref:  Peshawar Bomb Blast

Alternatively if you would like to send a one of donation please use the pay-pal facility on the top right hand corner of our blog, or simply send a cheque made payable to the  BPCA  to our address 57 Green Lane, Ilford, Essex, IG1 1XG.
With your support we hope to change the lives of millions of Christians in Pakistan.